By Tom Robinson, NEPASportsNation.com
KINGSTON – Mekhi Nelson entered the summer with the Wilkes-Barre Area football team looking to land the job at quarterback, the position he played on the freshman team.
Instead, Ciro Cinti found many ways to use the speedy sophomore.
Nelson was all over the field Saturday, accounting for touchdowns of at least 50 yards receiving, running and passing to rally the Wolfpack past Scranton, 35-13, in the season opener.
The game was played at Wyoming Valley West’s Spartan Stadium, Wilkes-Barre Area’s temporary home this season, and Nelson, who is still listed as a quarterback on the roster, made himself at home moving around in the Wolfpack offense.
As the season approached, Cinti started trying Nelson in other spots.
“In the preseason, I got a lot of reps at quarterback, so I really thought I wasn’t going to play any other position this year,” Nelson said. “Then, about a month ago, when we started doing our passing scrimmages, coach started putting me in packages as a wide receiver and running back.”
The move paid off.
“I like it,” said Nelson, who rushed for 104 yards on just 8 carries.
Nelson started Wilkes-Barre Area’s comeback from a 13-0, first-quarter deficit with a highlight-reel, 50-yard touchdown in which he took a short pass from Javant McClary, raced through the middle of the Scranton defense and stepped through two tackles on his way to the end zone.
“Don’t let it get to your head, you’ve got to bounce back the next play,” Nelson said. “No matter how big a lead they have, you fill your role, do your job and you can come back.”
With Nelson leading the way, the Wolfpack reeled off the game’s last 35 points.
“He’s a great athlete, but he’s a sophomore who never played a varsity game before,” Cinti said. “The kid has a lot of ability. He’s getting better every week.”
Nelson ran 54 yards around right end for a third-quarter touchdown. He was hit hard and slowed twice, but the Knights never brought him down.
Then, on the second play of the fourth quarter, Nelson used a double pass to show off his arm on a 60-yard touchdown to Anthony Nguyen.
The new ways to use Nelson are just one part of the Wilkes-Barre Area’s pursuit of success with an almost entirely new lineup.
Even after being outgained, 120-5, and having the ball for just three plays in the first 9:31, the Wolfpack did not back down.
“Expectations are always there,” Cinti said. “We’re never going to say, ‘we want to be .500’. The heck with that. You might as well go back to the drawing board.
“We want to be successful. People were saying, ‘next year, you’re going to be good because you’ve got a lot of young players’. No, this year we’re going to be good because we have a lot of good players.”
The sluggish start included a game-opening, 13-play scoring drive by the Knights, a fumble on the Wolfpack’s third play and Scranton taking advantage of it. Short touchdown runs by quarterback Arvel Chandler and Charlie Thompson gave the Knights their two-touchdown lead.
The rest of the game was all Wolfpack, beginning with Nelson’s touchdown on the next offensive play.
From that point on, Wilkes-Barre Area built statistical advantages of 15-11 in first downs, 198-123 in rushing yards, 134-39 in passing yards and 332-162 in total offense.
Junior Javant McClary showed the quarterback position is in good hands, going 4-for-5 for 74 yards while carrying 10 times for 46 yards and another score.
Sincere Williams, a 148-pound sophomore defensive back, had a huge game with a dozen tackles, twice coming up to make stops behind the line of scrimmage.
McClary’s 14-yard run on the fourth play of the second quarter put Wilkes-Barre Area ahead, 14-13.
Scranton answered by driving to the 3, but Naquan Hollman intercepted a fourth-down pass in the end zone.
Wilkes-Barre Area again followed up a touchdown with a key defensive stop in the third quarter.
After Nelson’s touchdown run for a 21-13 lead, Scranton drove to the 7.
Maliek Afzal forced a fumble that Javon Goodwin recovered.
Howie Shiner closed the scoring with a 1-yard run midway through the fourth quarter.
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